I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was way too young to fully grasp it, but the title at least has always stuck with me. It’s the philosophical story of a father and son hitting the open road, and though motorcycles haven’t been kind to my family, and I wouldn’t know how to maintain one to save my life, it’s the zen of the long distance drive that resonates with me, despite my love/hate/mostly-hate relationship with driving.
I recently drove by myself from Vancouver to Los Angeles — 25 hours each way — and that was part of the thrill of a pretty thrilling vacation. There’s no better way to clear the mind as I focus on the road, the music, and my thoughts. I’m not big on audiobooks because my mind drifts, and that’s the point: I like the drift. I like the random connections my mind creates when it has no other expectations placed on it.
It starts with the music I’m listening to. Like that it’s not quite tragic, and definitely not hip, but it saddens me that The Tragically Hip’s “New Orleans is Sinking” rocks, yet no one can ever listen to it again without thinking of Hurricane Katrina. The song’s not about that kind of literal devastation – you’d be hard pressed to say what most of singer and lyricist Gord Downie’s songs are “about” – but that line means something else now: “New Orleans is sinking and I don’t want to swim.”
I notice thematic similarities in songs like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something and “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service – a pathetic reaching for connections most of us have been guilty of. In the former there’s the mutual kinda liking of a movie being the one thing a couple has in common, and in the latter there’s matching eye freckles.
When the Indigo Girls start to blast and make my foot start tapping – the left foot, don’t worry — I remember once picking “Closer to Fine” as my theme song and ponder on the still-valid reasons for that: “There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.”
But then the connection to what’s in the car or around the car is lost, and the mind starts making other random connections. And random connections are the genesis of creativity. How else to explain the brilliance of the peanut butter/chocolate cup? Mr. or Ms. Reese must have been on a long distance drive. It’s well-documented that in business and in life, so often it’s when we’re not thinking of the problem at hand that a solution pops up.
My creative solution to all the world’s woes, from how to make our health care system sustainable to how to get Hollywood to stop recycling ideas? Stick all the decision-makers in a car and set them loose on the I-5.